Hangout on Air: Terminator or Transcendence?

  • May 4, 2014 · 7:00 PM

Hollywood has provided some vivid images of what might happen when AI gains superhuman powers. This includes the various disasters depicted in Terminator and Transcendence. These films are science fiction, but appear to have some of their plot lines rooted in potential near-future real-world developments. Should we be worried about real-world near-equivalents of Dr Will Caster? If so, what sort of evasive action should we be taking?

This London Futurists Hangout On Air assembles an international panel of analysts who have thought long and hard about the potential of superhuman AI: Randal Koene, Calum Chace, Stuart Armstong, and Nikola Danaylov.

The panellists will be debating a number of far-reaching questions raised by recent Hollywood AI extravaganzas:

• Which elements of Transcendence are the least credible? Which elements are the most credible?

• How soon will we see the first human-level AI? Haven’t computer scientists been wrong about their predictions of timing many times before? Why should we take their latest predictions any more seriously than previous ones?

• Aren't human minds just too complex and mysterious to be replicated?

• If human society can’t even take effective action to address climate change, what chance do we have to take effective action against malignant AI development?

• If we had Hollywood-level budgets at our disposal, what kind of film about AI would we most like to make?

Note: the discussion is likely to cover many aspects of the plot of Transcendence. To avoid spoiling your cinematic enjoyment, attendees are recommended to watch the film before participating in this Hangout.

Live questions:

Viewers of the live broadcast on Google+ will be able to vote in real time on questions and suggestions to be discussed by the panellists as the Hangout proceeds. Give '+1' votes to the suggestions you most like.

Event hashtag:

#LonFut

Event logistics: 

This event will take place between 7pm and 8.30pm UK time on Sunday 4th May.

Click here to find these times in a different timezone.

You can view the event:

• On Google+ at https://plus.google.com/events/c8pj82lpnshf80dtvd4nse2s2hs, where you'll also be able to vote on questions to be submitted to the panellists 

• Via YouTube at http://youtu.be/qLiZV_q7hOM.

There is no charge to participate in this discussion.

Note: There is no central physical location for this meetup. However, you may consider meeting with a few friends in the same locality, and watching the event together.

Note also that panellists are subject to change, depending on personal circumstances nearer the time. 

About the panellists:

Randal Koene: Science Director, 2045 Initiative, and Founder, Carboncopies.org

Dr. Randal A. Koene has been focusing on the functional reconstruction of neural tissue since 1994. He introduced the multi-disciplinary field of whole brain emulation and is lead curator of the scientific roadmap with which its technological development is promoted. 

Working with the VU University Amsterdam, Dr. Koene led the creation of NETMORPH, a computational framework for the simulated morphological development of large-scale high-resolution neuroanatomically realistic neuronal circuitry.

Dr. Koene is CEO and Founder of the science foundation Carboncopies.org and neural interfaces company NeuraLink Co. He is Science Director of the 2045 Initiative and advises several neurotechnology companies and organizations.

In previous roles, Dr. Koene was Director of Analysis at Silicon Valley nanotechnology company Halcyon Molecular [masked]) and Director of the Department of Neuroengineering at Tecnalia, the third largest private research organization in Europe [masked]). Dr. Koene was a research professor at Boston University's Center for Memory and Brain.

He earned his Ph.D. studying memory mechanisms at McGill University, after obtaining an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering with a specialization in Information Theory at Delft University of Technology.

Dr. Koene’s publications, presentations and interviews are available at http://randalkoene.com.

Calum Chace: businessman, blogger, and author of Pandora's Brain

Calum Chace lives in London and Sussex. After a 30-year career in business he chairs and consults to entrepreneurial businesses, and he is now a novelist and a blogger.

Calum believes that the first conscious machine may be created before this century is halfway through. The consequences of this are likely to be astonishing. He points to a quotation from Andrew Marr in a BBC1 TV programme last year, describing this forthcoming creation as: “the greatest achievement of humanity since the invention of agriculture [and it will] challenge the very idea of what it is to be human.”

Calum is the author of the scientific thriller Pandora's Brain (to be published in 2014), which looks at the issues raised by the coming machine intelligence explosion. Set in the very near future, the book features Max, a shy but engaging and resourceful student who discovers that his recently-deceased father was involved in research that could enable the construction of the world’s first conscious machine.

Stuart Armstrong: Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford

Dr Stuart Armstrong is a James Martin Research Fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University.

Stuart's research includes the risks and possibilities of Artificial Intelligence, the long term potential for intelligent life, and the interaction between various existential risks.

Stuart is the author of the book "Smarter than us: The rise of machine intelligence". The book is described as follows:

What happens when machines become smarter than humans? Forget lumbering Terminators. The power of an artificial intelligence (AI) comes from its intelligence, not physical strength and laser guns. Humans steer the future not because we’re the strongest or the fastest but because we’re the smartest. When machines become smarter than humans, we’ll be handing them the steering wheel. What promises—and perils—will these powerful machines present? Stuart Armstrong’s new book navigates these questions with clarity and wit.

Can we instruct AIs to steer the future as we desire? What goals should we program into them? It turns out this question is difficult to answer! Philosophers have tried for thousands of years to define an ideal world, but there remains no consensus. The prospect of goal-driven, smarter-than-human AI gives moral philosophy a new urgency. The future could be filled with joy, art, compassion, and beings living worthwhile and wonderful lives—but only if we’re able to precisely define what a “good” world is, and skilled enough to describe it perfectly to a computer program.

AIs, like computers, will do what we say—which is not necessarily what we mean. Such precision requires encoding the entire system of human values for an AI: explaining them to a mind that is alien to us, defining every ambiguous term, clarifying every edge case. Moreover, our values are fragile: in some cases, if we mis-define a single piece of the puzzle—say, consciousness—we end up with roughly 0% of the value we intended to reap, instead of 99% of the value.

Though an understanding of the problem is only beginning to spread, researchers from fields ranging from philosophy to computer science to economics are working together to conceive and test solutions. Are we up to the challenge?

Nikola Danaylov, host of Singularity Weblog and Singularity 1 on 1

Philosopher, infopreneur, blogger, and popular podcast host, Nikola Danaylov was born in Bulgaria and now lives in Toronto.

In 1998 Nikola moved to Canada where he completed an HBA in Political Science, Philosophy & Economics at the University of Toronto followed by an MA in Political Science at York University.

It was at YorkU that Nikola became deeply interested in the Technological Singularity and wrote “Hacking Destiny: Critical Security at the Intersection of Human and Machine Intelligence.”

In 2011 Nikola went to NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California and completed the Graduate Studies Program at Singularity University.

For the past 5 years Nikola has published and edited over 600 articles and conducted more than 130 interviews with the world’s best known experts. He has spoken at public events on topics ranging from technology, transhumanism and the technological singularity to new media, blogging and podcasting. Nikola has been profiled in Next Stage Rising Stars Magazine and has been interviewed himself for numerous documentary films, blogs, podcasts, magazines and newspapers. His own Singularity 1 on 1 interviews have had over 1 million views on iTunes and YouTube and have been featured on international TV networks as well as some of the biggest blogs in the world, such as io9, ZDNet, BoingBoing and others.

Today Singularity Weblog is the biggest independent blog on related topics. The Singularity 1 on 1 podcast is the most popular and widely recognized interview series in the niche and, according to Prof. Roman Yampolskiy, Nikola has established himself as the “Larry King of the Singularity.”

Join or login to comment.

  • Julian S.

    It seems to me if we are to have a good film about AI and/or Transhumanism we can't rely on Hollywood, we'll have to script it ourselves...

    2 · May 4, 2014

    • Calum

      Just watched that Giants video. Great fun. They seemed to avoid using the phrase Grey Goo altogether.

      May 6, 2014

    • Julian S.

      Well spotted Calum, I missed Musk in the audience.

      May 6, 2014

  • Diogo N.

    Really good discussion!

    1 · May 5, 2014

    • Peter M.

      It's good to ask alot of questions.

      2 · May 5, 2014

    • Mark G.

      And you asked perfect questions! In the real world, we stick our hand up to ask a question... I didnt find a way un-ask (put my hand down) a question when the discussion moves on.

      May 5, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    I will be in London June 4-6 to introduce the[masked] State of the Future and the Global Futures Research System. You can ontact me directly at [masked] or go to http://millennium-project.org/millennium/201314SOF.htm and http://millennium-project.org/millennium/GFIS.html

    2 · May 5, 2014

    • David W.

      Hi Jerome - I'll write to you on email too, but let's figure out a way to arrange a meetup around the UK launch of your[masked] State of the Future and the GFIS.

      May 5, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      That would be great. BTW I wrote Future Mind back in the 1980s the introduced "conscious-technolo­gy" our coming merger with tech and use to know F.M.Esfadiary in the 1970s. Pleased to see the movement from the term transhumanism to humanity+

      1 · May 5, 2014

  • Peter M.

    Very interesting panel discussion as well as questions/comments from the attendees. It will be interesting to see if we get to vote on whether we continue with this research, and what difference this will make anyway...

    1 · May 4, 2014

  • JM Aranco T.

    Will have to watch the film. Not been on Cinema for quite a while. I'm compelled to do so and for that will have to view the discussion on Youtube.

    May 4, 2014

  • Ted H.

    Good discussion.
    Would have liked to see more discussion around the notion of the impact of the environment that we give AI affecting it development. The example we set is likely to be more important than anything we tell it or program into it.

    We need to demonstrate by our societal choices that we actually value sentience.
    Clearly our current social structures value money far more than sentience.
    This reality is, to me, the single greatest threat facing our society.

    AI will transcend us.
    What example are we setting it?

    If we want to survive, then it seems clear to me that we need to get past market values - and quickly.
    We need to demonstrate our values by our actions.

    May 4, 2014

  • Nicky

    This was really enjoyable, I agreed with most of the views expressed especially regarding the major failings of Transcendence. Great job everyone!

    1 · May 4, 2014

  • Nikola D.

    I had a lot of fun discussing the issues with the other panelists and hope that viewers did benefit from watching us too ;-)

    2 · May 4, 2014

  • Khannea S.

    So for spectators there's the YouTube, and for the panel there is the Meetup, yes?

    May 4, 2014

    • David W.

      The best interface for spectators is the G+ event page, https://plus.google.co...­. You can use the Q&A window there to raise short questions which other specators can '+1' to indicate they like them.

      3 · May 4, 2014

  • Calum

    Very glad you can make it, Nikola. Don't bother with T4, though!

    2 · April 9, 2014

    • Mark G.

      So right! The first 2 films were great fun when released while surely lacking any serious contribution to subjects we now enjoy as futurists. From the iconically scary goal-oriented "multiple choice" software running from a command prompt (T800/850) to the equally unintelligent liquid metal Terminator (T1000)... both had bodies designed by a super intelligent AGI that clearly transcended before creating the software and hardware of intelligence for them!

      April 26, 2014

  • Nikola D.

    Looking forward to this conversation! [In addition to watching "Transcendence" I may have to refresh myself on the Terminator series ;-]

    4 · April 9, 2014

    • Mark G.

      Hey Nikola - Looking forward to this too! Great to have you join the conversation.

      April 26, 2014

  • Peter M.

    This looks great!

    1 · April 4, 2014

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